Ex-Eta chief arrested in French Alps
A former chief of the Basque separatist group Eta has been arrested in the French Alps, according to Spain’s Interior Ministry.
The Spanish authorities had been looking for Jose Antonio Urruticoetxea Bengoetxea, 69, also known as Josu Ternera, since 2002.
The alleged militant is accused of crimes against humanity.
The Spanish Civil Guard and French intelligence services arrested Ternera on Thursday (today) morning in Sallanches, a small town in the French Alps.
“The terrorist had been living near Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, an area very popular with those who practise winter sports,” said the interior ministry in Madrid. “The town lies very close to the borders between France, Switzerland and Italy.”
Spain accused Ternera of taking part in a 1987 bombing of a Civil Guard police barracks in Zaragoza that left 11 people dead and injured five children of Civil Guard staff.
Acting prime minister Pedro Sanchez welcomed the arrest.
“Franco-Spanish cooperation once again demonstrated its effectiveness,” the Socialist leader said.
Eta, standing for “Basque Homeland and Freedom” in the Basque language, aimed to create an independent state in northern Spain and southern France.
The militant group gave up its arms in 2017 and disbanded last year, bringing western Europe’s final major armed separatist insurgency to an end.
Ternera, who is thought to be seriously ill, recorded the “final declaration” announcing Eta’s dissolution in May last year.
Before that, Ternera held negotiations with Spain’s socialist government but was displaced in 2006 after the talks failed as more hardline members took control.
Eta was founded as a cultural organisation in 1959 in reaction to the repression of the Franco regime.
It took up armed struggle in the 1960s and, between 1968 and 2010, killed 829 people in bombing and shootings. Almost half of the victims were civilians.
In 1973 Eta assassinated then prime minister Luis Carrero Blanco with a bomb that blew his car 20 metres into the air.
The bombing of a Barcelona supermarket in 1987, which left 21 dead, provoked a popular backlash. The murder of a young Basque politician, Miguel Ángel Blanco, in 1997 brought 6 million people on to the streets of Spain to condemn the movement.
In April 2018, Eta apologised for the violence, saying it assumed “direct responsibility” for decades of bloodshed.
“We know that we caused a lot of pain during that long period of armed struggle, including damage that can never be put right,” an Eta statement said. “We wish to show our respect for those who were killed or wounded by Eta and those who were affected by the conflict. We are truly sorry.”
An Eta announcement. Picture credit: YouTube